How to use tempo in your workouts


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tempo and ayurveda fitness

In the world of fitness, tempo is a term that signifies the speed at which you perform each exercise. I like to think of it as not only about what you’re doing in your workouts (exercises), but also about how you’re doing them (pace).

This essentially means that you have another factor added into your training, which is crucial, especially when integrating the principles of Ayurveda into your fitness routine to achieve your fitness goals, but most importantly to support doshic balance.

While implementing it might seem challenging initially, it isn’t. Today, we’ll delve into the concept of tempo to help you seamlessly incorporate it into your next fitness session.

What is Tempo?

Tempo in exercise refers to the pace at which a movement is executed, typically broken down into four phases: the eccentric (lowering) phase, the bottom (pause) phase, the concentric (lifting) phase, and the top (pause) phase. It’s often denoted in a series of numbers, such as 3-1-2-0, each representing the duration (in seconds) of these phases.

Tempo, in its essence, is closely related to the principle of “time under tension” (TUT), a pivotal factor in the efficacy of any exercise program. Time under tension refers to the total amount of time a muscle is under strain during a set.

This concept emphasizes the importance of the duration your muscles spend contracting, not just the number of repetitions or the weight lifted.

By focusing on TUT, you can maximize muscular endurance, as well as muscle and strength gains, as controlled movements ensure that muscles spend the right time under load, which is based on your fitness goals.

The Four Phases of an Exercise

Learn how to use tempo in your workouts by understanding the four phases of an exercise.

Incorporating the concept of tempo into your exercise routine demands an understanding of each phase of a movement. This knowledge not only improves the effectiveness of your workouts but also ensures that every rep contributes towards achieving your fitness aspirations in harmony with Ayurvedic principles.

Eccentric Phase (Lowering Phase)

This is the portion of the lift where you’re lowering the weight, or in bodyweight exercises, lowering your body. In a squat, this would be the part where you’re descending into the squat position. Going down slowly for, say, 3 seconds, increases the time under tension and can help improve muscle strength and endurance. For example, starting from a standing position, you would count to 3 as you lower your body down into the squat.

Bottom Phase (Pause Phase)

This phase occurs at the end of the eccentric phase before you start the lifting part. In a squat, this would be when you’ve reached the lowest part of the movement and you hold that position for a brief pause, say for 1 second. This pause can help increase the intensity of the exercise by maintaining muscle tension without relief.

Concentric Phase (Lifting Phase)

This phase involves lifting the weight or, with a squat, raising your body back to the starting position. It’s crucial for building muscle as you work against gravity. For example, in a squat, after pausing at the bottom, you would take 2 seconds to lift your body back up. This controlled, slower lift can significantly enhance muscle growth and strength.

Top Phase (Pause Phase)

After reaching the top of the lift, there’s often a brief pause before starting the next repetition. In the case of a squat, once you’ve returned to standing, you might hold the position for 0 seconds (indicating no pause) or slightly longer to prepare for the next repetition. This phase allows for a momentary break in tension before starting the next cycle of movement.

By understanding and applying these four phases with proper tempo to exercises like the squat, you can greatly improve your workout effectiveness, focusing on form and time under tension to achieve your desired results.

How to use tempo in your workouts

To learn how to use tempo in your workouts, start by choosing the right sequence for your exercise goals and Ayurvedic constitution. For instance, a slower tempo increases time under tension, enhancing muscle growth and strength, while a faster tempo can improve power and agility.

The following examples demonstrate how tempo can be applied to two common exercises: squats and shoulder press.

Tempo 3221 (squat)

Let’s break down the execution of a squat using the tempo prescription 3221, which represents the time, in seconds, spent in each phase of the movement:

  1. Eccentric Phase (3 seconds): Initiating the movement, you would start by standing upright, then gradually lower your body towards the ground, taking a full 3 seconds to reach the bottom of the squat. This slower descent increases the amount of time your muscles are under tension, emphasizing muscle endurance and control.
  2. Bottom Phase (2 seconds): Upon reaching the lowest point of your squat, instead of immediately pushing back up, you hold this position for 2 seconds. This pause not only challenges your stability and strength but also maintains muscle strain, contributing further to muscle growth.
  3. Concentric Phase (2 seconds): Following the pause, you then take 2 seconds to raise your body back to the starting position. This deliberate ascension further activates your quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings, enhancing muscle engagement and growth.
  4. Top Phase (1 second): Once you’ve fully returned to your standing position, you briefly pause for 1 second before initiating the next repetition. This short pause allows you to catch your breath and prepare for the next cycle with proper form.
Watch this video to try another demonstration of tempo while performing a squat exercise.

The total Time Under Tension (TUT) for this example is 8 seconds per repetition (3 seconds down, 2 seconds pause, 2 seconds up, and 1 second pause), which significantly increases the workout’s intensity and effectiveness.

Tempo 2010 (shoulder press)

The shoulder press with dumbbells using a tempo prescription of 2010 consists of the following phases:

  1. Eccentric Phase (2 seconds): Starting with the dumbbells held overhead, you lower them towards your shoulders, taking 2 seconds for this descending motion. This controlled lowering phase not only helps in muscle lengthening but also in improving the stabilization capabilities of the shoulder muscles.
  2. Bottom Phase (0 seconds): Upon the dumbbells reaching shoulder level, you transition immediately to the next phase without any pause. This ensures a seamless and continuous movement pattern, enhancing the fluidity of the exercise.
  3. Concentric Phase (1 second): Immediately after reaching the bottom, you press the dumbbells upward, taking only 1 second. This quick push phase demands explosive power from the shoulder muscles, maximizing muscle recruitment and development.
  4. Top Phase (0 seconds): Once the arms are fully extended, you immediately start the next repetition without pausing at the top. This keeps the muscles engaged without rest, increasing the exercise intensity.
Watch this video to try another demonstration of tempo while performing a shoulder press exercise.

The total Time Under Tension (TUT) for this sequence is 3 seconds per repetition (2 seconds down, 0 seconds pause at the bottom, 1 second up, and 0 seconds pause at the top), making each set quick and focused primarily on developing power and strength in the shoulder region.

Why tempo?

At prana app we design workouts that cater to your dosha and fitness goals.

Hence, tempo plays a vital role in our program design by:

  1. Aligning with Ayurvedic practices and promoting mindfulness and connection between the body and mind during exercise, enhancing overall well-being and doshic balance.
  2. Helping you perform exercises at a pace that suits your specific dosha. Those with a Kapha body type may benefit from more invigorating movements with a quicker tempo, while Vatas and Pittas should opt for a slower pace to prevent dosha imbalances.
  3. Supporting your fitness goals. Each program we provide is tailored to help you achieve specific objectives. Consideration of tempo is crucial to ensure these goals are attainable, whether it’s weight loss, toning, or muscle gain.

Learn more about effective Ayurvedic fitness principles to balance your dosha:

Ayurvedic-Inspired Fitness Sessions and Tempo

From an Ayurvedic perspective, understanding and managing your dosha (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha) is key to maintaining balance and health.

One of the key ways to maintain / achieve balance is through exercise and tempo is a factor within fitness that can significantly impact this balance, making it an essential consideration in your fitness regimen if you are following an Ayurvedic lifestyle.

Impact of Tempo on Doshas

  • Vata: Quick tempos can aggravate Vata due to their mobile nature, which might lead to increased anxiety or fatigue. Slow, steady tempos are ideal, promoting stability and grounding. However, if you are new to fitness, quick tempos need to be considered first to reduce exercise difficulty and time under tension. Tempo can then be gradually adjusted to improve muscle strength.
  • Pitta: Moderate tempos work well for Pitta, providing a channel for their intensity and drive without overheating. It’s important to avoid excessively fast tempos that could lead to burnout or inflammation for this constitution.
  • Kapha: A faster tempo can invigorate Kapha, countering their inherent heaviness. This stimulation can aid in breaking through lethargy or stagnation, though care should be taken not to overexert. While the optimal exercise tempo is typically faster, proper form is always the priority to avoid the risk of injury and maximize muscle gains. Moreover, a brisk pace for Kapha can double as a cardiovascular workout, which could serve as an excellent supplement for promoting weight loss.

Examples of Adequate Tempo for Each Ayurvedic Constitution

These are just some examples of proper tempos for the three body types Vata, Pitta, and Kapha:

  • Vata: 4-1-2-0, focusing on slow and controlled movements to enhance stability and reduce anxiety.
  • Pitta: 2-1-2-0, a balanced tempo that allows for intensity without causing burnout.
  • Kapha: 1-0-1-0, a quicker tempo to stimulate energy and combat sluggishness.

Benefits of Strength Training for a Healthy and Balanced Lifestyle

Strength training, when done with mindful attention to tempo, breathing, proper form, hydration, and mind-muscle connection offers numerous benefits that align with Ayurvedic principles of health and wellness:

  • Enhanced Muscular Balance: Correcting imbalances in the body supports proper posture and alignment, reducing the risk of injury and promoting overall physical harmony.
  • Improved Metabolism: Building muscle improves body composition and helps you achieve and maintain a healthier body weight, a key component in maintaining doshic balance.
  • Increased Bone Density: Essential for preventing osteoporosis, especially important in balancing Vata, which is prone to bone health issues.
  • Mental Clarity and Focus: The discipline and concentration required in strength training support mental clarity, beneficial for all doshas but particularly grounding for Vata and cooling for Pitta.
  • Emotional Stability: Engaging in consistent physical activity, which includes strength training, can aid in managing emotions. This can decrease the inclination towards mood swings related to Vata imbalance, impatience and irritation often linked to Pittas, as well as attachment and stubbornness associated with Kapha dosha.

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Hi! I'm Monica

My life purpose is to help women achieve physical, mental, and emotional alignment, improve their digestion, balance their hormones, and feel more confident in their own skin.

Join me on PRANA APP for a journey of self discovery, balance, and bliss. All you need and more to restore your health and thrive is waiting for you on Prana app.

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